Archive for Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Author: Black athletes should aim higher

February 6, 2007

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Are black athletes wasting their considerable wealth?

Sportswriter William C. Rhoden thinks so.

Rhoden adds a powerful voice to this debate. It's why I've chosen his book "Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete" (Crown, $23.95) for the February Color of Money Book Club.

Rhoden, who is African-American, has been a sportswriter for The New York Times since 1983. In his new book, Rhoden gives a much needed slap-down to wealthy, spoiled and socially unconscious African-American professional sports figures.

Rhoden acknowledges that calling millionaire athletes slaves would stir up controversy. Even so, he says he uses that term because these players' professional lives are controlled by white team owners.

What I find fascinating about this book is that Rhoden doesn't just criticize the team owners; he spends far more time criticizing black athletes for not being more vocal about social issues important to the community.

Perhaps it's not fair to swipe at them without a full analysis of all their charitable contributions, but I was nodding in agreement at Rhoden's assessment of today's black athlete.

We shouldn't strive to be like Mike, according to Rhoden. Because what exactly has Michael Jordan stood up for off the basketball court?

Well, little more than making money and hawking products, Rhoden argues. Jordan has again and again chosen commercialism over important community and political advocacy, he says.

"When the face of black sports is Kobe Bryant or Mike Tyson or even a raging capitalist like Bob Johnson, it's clear that the sense of a larger mission has collapsed," he writes.

Rhoden feels black athletes did not do enough when Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands of families, many of them black. While some athletes did donate their time and money, Rhoden notes that no one really stepped up to "galvanize the collective power of African-American professional athletes to create a more far-reaching initiative," he says.

"Contemporary black athletes have abdicated their responsibility to the community with treasonous vigor," according to Rhoden.

But as his book title suggests, these players can redeem themselves. Rhoden proposes creating a national organization of professional black athletes to use their wealth and influence to help improve the economic condition of many black folks who can't afford to even go to their games.

I agree with Rhoden: To whom much is given, much is required.

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